Symptom attribution and symptom reporting in Australian Gulf War veterans

Wright, B., McFarlane, A., Clarke, D. M., Sim, M, R., & Kelsall, H. L. (2015). Symptom attribution and symptom reporting in Australian Gulf War veterans. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 79, 674-679.


Objective: To better understand the consistent elevated symptom reporting by Gulf War veterans; we compared Australian Gulf War veterans and military-comparison group on symptom attributional styles and the relationship with total number and grouping of somatic and psychological symptoms.

Method: Postal questionnaires were completed by Australian Gulf War veterans (n = 697) and militarycomparison group (n = 659) in 2000-2002 and 2011-2012. Data were collected on deployments, militarypsychological stressors, symptom reporting, symptom factors and attributional style (normalising, psychologising, somatising, mixed-attribution).

Results: Gulf War veterans did not differ in attributional style from comparison group (p N 0.05); normalising was the predominant style. Groups were combined for analyses. Psychologisers reported the highest overall symptoms (mean(M) = 10.95, standard deviation(SD) = 9.15), the most psychophysiological (M = 1.71, SD = 2.82), cognitive (M = 5.79, SD = 5.09) and arthro-neuromuscular symptoms (M = 1.53, SD = 1.73). Psychologisers and somatisers reported significantly more symptoms across overall symptoms, all three symptom factors and psychological distress than normalisers. Normalisers consistently reported fewest overall symptoms (M=2.85, SD=4.49), psychophysiological (M=0.40, SD=0.98), cognitive (M=1.14, SD=2.22), and arthro-neuromuscular symptoms (M= 0.72, SD = 1.31). Persistent symptoms, rather than remitted, between baseline and follow-up were associated with increased rates of psychologising and mixed-attribution compared with normalising. For incident symptoms a similar pattern was observed, some symptoms also showed increased rates of somatising.

Conclusions: In veterans, psychologising was associated with higher symptom reporting, whilst somatisers and mixed-attribution also demonstrated higher reporting than normalisers. Symptom persistence and incidence were associated with symptom attribution. The findings indicate that attributional style is associated with patterns of symptom reporting and highlights both past and present symptoms may influence attributional style.

DOI/Australian-New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry